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Meet Ajamu Baraka: Green VP Candidate Aims to Continue the Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois & Malcolm X

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The Green Party’s vice-presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka is a longtime human rights activist. He is the founding executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network and coordinator of the U.S.-based Black Left Unity Network’s Committee on International Affairs. For years, Baraka has led efforts by the U.S. Human Rights Network to challenge police brutality and racism in the United States by bringing these issues to the United Nations.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “American Dream” by the folk duo Somebody’s Sister. And, yes, that is Dr. Jill Stein on vocals, the Green Party presidential nominee. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are speaking with Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka. He is a longtime human rights activist. Baraka is the founding executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, coordinator of the U.S.-based Black Left Unity Network’s Committee on International Affairs.

You are new to the electoral scene, Ajamu Baraka.

AJAMU BARAKA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us a little about yourself. You were—you grew up in Chicago?

AJAMU BARAKA: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I ended up in the military. And after the military, I ended up in the South, and I went south to organize in the late—mid to late '70s. There I got involved in, of course, a lot of the anti-apartheid work, along with community organizing, was involved in the Central America solidarity movement, organizing delegations to Nicaragua in support of the unfolding revolution in that country, and all the time moving toward human rights, ended up volunteering with Amnesty International and ended up on the board in the mid-'90s. I saw myself as someone that was trying to continue the legacy of Du Bois and Malcolm X in terms of internationalizing the struggle of African people in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: You mention Du Bois—

AJAMU BARAKA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —W. E. B. Du Bois, who taught at Clark Atlanta University—

AJAMU BARAKA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —or, then, I guess, Atlanta University, where you went to school.

AJAMU BARAKA: Well, I went to grad school there. It was the place where you went in the ’80s if you were a progressive, a radical, a black radical. And that was the place I ended up going. I was—I had a chance to go other places, but that was—it was recommended to me to go to AU, if I really wanted to steep myself in a kind of theory that we needed to advance the struggle in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the U.S. Human Rights Network—

AJAMU BARAKA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —that you set up, and explain what you did there.

AJAMU BARAKA: Well, you know, the network was the first network ever established in this country to apply international human rights standards and law to the United States of America. You know, people tend to think of human rights issues being something out there in other places, and excluding and giving a pass to the U.S. Well, we said that we have to have one standard for all nations. And so, this network, that was established with about 20 or 30 organizations, quickly grew to over 300 organizations. Most of the civil rights and human rights organizations in this country ended up a part of that network. And we held the U.S. accountable. We organized around human rights. We educated people on human rights. We took people to Geneva to testify on their own behalf. We talked about the agency of people in terms of how we build and enforce our own human rights. So this was part of a radical reinterpretation of human rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, that’s very significant. I remember being there years ago, in the early ’90s, testifying about what was happening in East Timor.

AJAMU BARAKA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And there was this U.S. delegation that was there—

AJAMU BARAKA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that was talking about what’s often referred to in the United States as civil rights—

AJAMU BARAKA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —talking about what happens to African Americans here, but bringing it to an international forum. So, explain how you reframe civil rights and why you see it as an international issue that should be dealt with by an international body, why you saw the U.N. as the place for that.

AJAMU BARAKA: Well, you know, at the end of the Second World War, Du Bois and others understood that we had to internationalize our struggle. They saw that the framework we had to appeal to was in fact a human rights framework. And so, what we said in the 1990s was that we were going from civil rights back to human rights, that basically it was clear that the U.S. was not prepared to not only defend and protect the constitutional rights of African Americans and others, but they had completely ignored the human rights obligations that they had. So, for us, it was reconnecting. It was connecting our struggles with the rest of the world, because what’s happening around the world is a international struggle for freedom, a struggle against oppression, a struggle that says that basically we all have certain fundamental rights, that we have a right to live in dignity. And so, therefore, we wanted to link up with that international struggle, and the only way you do that is within the context of this human rights framework.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how do you view, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement today? Does it give you hope?

AJAMU BARAKA: It gives me a lot of hope. I mean, these are human rights fighters. I am so proud at the evolution of that movement. The recent release of their platform—the Movement for Black Lives, that is—a few—about a week or so ago, demonstrated a real understanding of the interrelated issues that we have to fight against in this country, and globally. One aspect of their platform was that they understood, like the young organizers in SNCC back in the 1960s, that you have to connect up internationally. And they expressed their solidarity with the struggling people of Palestine. That was very, very significant, because that puts them squarely within the context of the proud tradition of black internationalism. So I’m very, very encouraged by the evolution.

AMY GOODMAN: As a vice-presidential candidate now, what do you want to see in Israel-Palestine?

AJAMU BARAKA: We want to see peace. We want to see a recognition of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination. We want to see an end to the colonial relationship. Like any people we know, Palestinians want to live. They want to live free. They don’t to be subjected to the kind of brutality that’s a part of their everyday life. See, I’ve been to Palestine. I’ve seen the reality. I had a chance to move across the entire West Bank. I think if any person in this country, if they had a chance to go to Palestine and experience and see what I saw, there’s no way that they could support the notion that it is an automatic sort of moral obligation to support the existence and the continuation of the Israeli state’s ability to impose itself on the Palestinian people. They would be opposed to that.

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